Guor Marial’s dream was to run in the Olympics. Fourteen years ago he left Sudan after being kidnapped twice and forced to do manual labor as an eight year old. During the civil war in Sudan, he even experienced the deaths of his eight siblings.
You may have heard a narrative like this before, but before you consider this “just another African war story”, learn what 29 year old Marial did with his own story.
He found his way to New Hampshire, joined the track team, learned English, and earned a scholarship to Iowa State, becoming an all-American runner. Marial channeled his traumatic experience into something positive.
He trained hard and qualified for the Olympics just a few months after South Sudan gained its independence. The International Olympic Committee required him to belong to a country to compete, but he had no coach, and no country to represent. Sudan wanted him to run for them, but Marial didn’t want to dishonor the two million people who died in the war.
He told the Huffington Post, "Some things are more important than Olympic Glory." Although Marial wanted to make South Sudan proud, he also wanted to inspire refugees everywhere. "When I left Sudan I thought I would never, never run again because I thought running was only to save my life."
The world fell in love with this lonely runner. Letters to the IOC, online petitions, and a few news cycles later, Marial was allowed to run in the Olympics as an “Independent Olympic Athlete.”
I called Marial and we agreed to make a documentary about this historic moment, the events that got him there, and what the future would look like if he returned home to South Sudan for the first time in twenty years. I boarded a plane to meet him at the Olympics.
At the press conference in London, Marial told reporters, “I am representing the whole world, basically.” It was then that I saw the potential for this story to be bigger than just a film. I want to bring the message to people that standing up for personal ideals is important. Marial wants to travel back to South Sudan to get the attention of the government so that they'll take the necessary steps to make it possible for the world's newest country to join the rest of the world in the International Association of Athletics Federations and legitimately compete in world athletic events. If you'd like to help him make this change and tell his story, support our project on Kickstarter. Add it to your To-Do list.
Bill Gallagher was the Line Producer of the Academy Award nominated documentary If A Tree Falls.